The Vague Sounds of Life

by Mary Thompson

I knew before I went out that night I didn’t want to go. And yet I went. With these two pals, people I’d known for years who, on their own I could talk to, but as a pair I couldn’t. I felt separate, excluded, on the periphery of their little group. And when they were talking about their children, lives and relationships, I ordered. Anything my eye happened to fall on—patatas bravas, chorizo, padron peppers. But they were so busy talking, they didn’t realise I’d ordered and when the food arrived, they said, ‘oh, is that what we ordered?’ and gaped at the meat and cheese platter, the sad chunks of chopped up pig and manchego arranged in an unimaginative way. And as they nibbled the cheese and chewed the meat, they kept on talking about friends with cancer, friends who’d met their partners on Tinder and friends who were dating handsome, ruddy men in checked shirts who ran ultra-marathons and did wholesome jobs like thatching. And how happy they were for those friends.

And I just sat there guzzling wine and thinking, this is Life and Life is what happens to everyone else, right? And all I wanted to do was go home and lick my Bengal cat as I’d tried the night before, just to see what she tasted like, just to get inside her tiny, cute little head and experience the world from her minuscule perspective. Then one of them turned to me and said, ‘so, are you seeing anyone at the moment?’ And I said, actually it’s my three year anniversary—of no sex.’  They looked at me with pity and said in unison, ‘the most important thing is that you’re happy, darling.’

And I couldn’t think of anything else to say so I went to the bathroom and sat on a toilet seat for a while, listening to the vague sounds of Life through the door. The toilet paper felt so reassuring in my hand and I wondered why I’d never realised how gentle and understanding it could be. So I stayed there, stroking it and wishing I could roll myself up like it could. Then I felt the urge to stand, and as I did, the paper began to wrap itself around me, slowly at first, then faster and faster. Starting at my feet, it moved upwards, swathing my body in its protective whiteness. And Life became quieter and quieter, until the paper reached my head and I could hear it no longer.  My muscles relaxed and I felt a warm drowsiness, a feeling of okayness. Then I shuffled back into the bar with only my eyes showing, but my pals didn’t look up, they just kept drinking their wine.

Mary Thompson works as a freelance teacher in London. Her work has recently featured in journals and competitions including Flash 500, Fish Short Memoir, Ink in Thirds, Retreat West, Reflex Fiction, Flashflood, Ellipsis Zine, the Cabinet of Heed, Spelk, Firewords, Fictive Dream, Ghost Parachute, LISP, Cafe Irreal and Literary Orphans, and is forthcoming at Bangor Literary Journal and Riggwelter. She is a first reader for Craft Literary Journal.

Artwork by: Abigail G